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Full text of "The German attack on the Hebrew schools in Palestine"

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Author of "Je-wish 















191 8 



THE development of Jewish life in Pales- 
tine during the last few decades has been 
notable, not only for the return of the Jews 
to the land, but also for their resumption of their 
ancient language as the medium of daily intercourse. 
The use of Hebrew as the vernacular of the Jews in 
Palestine was based not only upon an immemorial 
historic claim, but also upon purely practical con- 
siderations. The Jews who settled in the Holy Land 
originally spoke the languages of their different 
native countries, and it was therefore necessary for 
their mutual understanding and communal har- 
mony that they should all express themselves in the 
same tongue. 

The use of Hebrew for secular purposes had at 
first to encounter no little opposition among the 
adherents of extreme Orthodoxy, but this opposi- 
tion was gradually overcome by the national en- 
thusiasm that inspired the majority of the latter- 
day Jewish settlers in Palestine. It was felt that if 
Jewish life was again to have a distinctive national 


4 The German Attack on 

character, it must express itself through the lan- 
guage which had been spoken by the Jewish people 
when it formerly lived as a nation on its own soil. 

A natural corollary of the use of Hebrew as the 
national language was its adoption as the medium 
of instruction in the Jewish schools of Palestine. 
Such a measure could not be carried out uniformly 
owing to the fact that the modern schools were estab- 
lished by Jewish organisations of different countries, 
each of which had an interest in fostering the lan- 
guage of its particular country. And a practical 
difficulty consisted in the fact that there were no 
text-books in Hebrew for subjects of general know- 
ledge, and the terminology had to be created by 
the teachers in the course of their work. 

But the Jewish national spirit gradually as- 
serted itself against these obstacles. The Hebrew 
language became more and more the medium of 
tuition in the schools of Palestine, and nothing 
impeded its progress until the Hilfsverein, the Ger- 
man Jewish philanthropic organization, acting, it 
is understood, at the instance, direct or indirect, 
of the German Government, began to suppress 
the use of Hebrew in its institutions in favour 
of German. This action at once aroused bitter 
opposition, both among the schools and the 
population, and the struggle that ensued formed 
one of the most striking and significant episodes in 
the contemporary history of Palestinian Jewry. 
The conflict, which raged most furiously towards the 

the Hebrew Schools in Palestine. 5 

end of the year 1913, was the outcome of a feeling 
of discontent that had been growing for some years, 
and in order to show how this arose, in what forms 
it manifested itself, and what were its results, it is 
necessary to describe briefly the Jewish educational 
system in Palestine. 

Until the last quarter of the nineteenth cen- 
tury Jewish education in Palestine was conducted 
almost entirely on a religious basis, and without 
any regard to the requirements of modern life. The 
bulk of the Jewish population depended on the 
Chalukah, the fund contributed by Jews in the 
Diaspora for the maintenance of their brethren who, 
impelled by motives of piety, settled in the Holy 
Land in order that they might be laid to rest 
there. The spirit by which these Jewish settlers 
were animated was reflected in the schools at- 
tended by. their children. The object of these 
schools was solely to foster religious traditions. 
They represented the standpoint of extreme ortho- 
doxy ; and they were wholly defective in peda- 
gogical respects. Such schools still existed even 
before the war. 

The first modern schools were established by 
the Alliance Israelite Universelle, an organisation 
founded in 1860 in Paris for the protection and 
promotion of the interests of the Jews in the Orient. 
It first established an agricultural school, Mikveh 
Israel, in 1870, near Jaffa, and then, between 1881 
and 1906, it founded over a dozen schools in the 

6 The German Attack on 

principal towns Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Safed, 
and Tiberias. The object of these schools was to 
give the children a modern French education with 
a slight Jewish colouring. The language of in- 
struction was French, and the teachers were for the 
most part imbued with French culture, so that the 
pupils were not infused with any particular love 
for Palestine, and generally aimed at leaving the 

The contribution of English Jewry to Pales- 
tinian education consists of the Evelina de Roth- 
schild School, which was founded in 1880, and was 
taken over eighteen years later by the Anglo- Jewish 
Association. The official language of instruction 
was, of course, English, but in the course of time 
Hebrew became the medium of instruction for 
nearly one-half of the curriculum. 

The Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden, a German- 
Jewish organisation which was founded in 1901 for 
the relief and betterment of the Jews in Eastern 
Europe, extended its scope of activity by also 
founding schools in Palestine. It was originally 
animated by the desire to fulfil the wishes and 
requirements of the native population, and accor- 
dingly an important place was devoted to Hebrew, 
which was intended to supplant the Oriental babel, 
and thus remove one of the causes detrimental to 
good education. In 1908 Dr. Paul Nathan, the 
honorary secretary and guiding genius of the 
Hilfsverein, emphasised the necessity of the Hebrew 

the Hebrew Schools in Palestine. 

medium of instruction as the basis of Jewish educa- 
tion in Palestine. Hence Hebrew was adopted as 
a language of instruction in the schools of the 
Hilfsverein, and as the exclusive medium in its 
kindergarten schools. 

The practical necessity of Hebrew as the uni- 
form medium of instruction arose from the polyglot 
character of the Jewish population. The school 
children, according to their respective origin, spoke 
different dialects Yiddish, Ladino, Arabic, Bok- 
haran, Persian, and Grusinian, and the only way in 
which they could be taught together was through 
the medium of the Jewish national language. But 
although Hebrew was at first employed more ex- 
tensively in the schools of the Hilfsverein than in 
those of the Alliance Israelite or of the Anglo- Jewish 
Association, it was used, on the other hand, in a 
much smaller measure than in such institutions as 
the Hebrew " Gymnasium " (Higher Grade School) 
in Jaffa and Jerusalem or the Orthodox " Tach- 
kemoni " School and the Women Teachers' Semi- 
nary in Jaffa. At these institutions, particularly 
in the Higher Grade Schools, it has been convincingly 
demonstrated that Hebrew can be used as the sole 
medium of instruction with the same degree of suc- 
cess as any modern language. At the Hebrew 
" Gymnasium " in Jaffa, which was established in 
1906, all subjects were taught in Hebrew, although 
in most cases the teachers had no text-books and 
had to create their own vocabulary. At the time 

$ The German Attack oil 

of the outbreak of the war this institution con- 
tained 700 students, who received a thoroughly up- 
to-date education in languages, science, and all 
modern subjects. Its leaving certificate was recog- 
nised by European and American Universities, and 
some of its past students had already been admitted 
to the Universities of Paris, New York and other 

But although the German organisation began 
with the laudable intention of fostering a Hebraic 
spirit in its schools, its enthusiasm gradually waned, 
and a contrary tendency set in. The retrogression was 
sufficiently appreciable in 1911 to be noticed even by 
the discerning tourist. The first occasion on which 
attention was publicly called to this tendency was 
at a general meeting of the Palestinian Teachers' 
Union, held in August, 1913, at Jaffa. The meet- 
ing was attended by more than 100 teachers from 
all parts of Palestine, one-third of whom were in 
the employ of the Hilfsverein. The conditions in the 
schools of this organization were trenchantly dis- 
cussed, and severe criticism was directed against the 
tendency to repress the use of Hebrew in favour of 
German as the language of instruction. 

The meeting concluded by adopting, almost 
unanimously, a resolution in the following terms : 
" The principles of national education demand that 
all subjects of instruction shall be taught in the 
Hebrew language, and this meeting pledges the 
members of the Teachers' Union to fight with all 

the Hebrew Schools in Palestine. 9 

energy against the instruction of secular subjects in 
a foreign language." This resolution was based not 
upon a mere rumour or a vague suspicion, but upon 
a series of concrete facts which had come under the 
notice of the Hilfsverein teachers themselves, and 
which they could not help regarding as symptomatic 
of a deliberate policy. A few instances should 

In the winter session 1912-13 Dr. Braver, at the 
Von Lamel School, taught pedagogy, geography, 
and history in Hebrew. Thereupon the Director of 
the Hilfsverein Schools, Mr. Ephraim Cohn, ordered 
that these subjects should be taught in German in 
the recapitulatory lessons, and as Dr. Braver de- 
clined, Mr. Cohn took these lessons himself. At 
Easter, 1913, Mr. Cohn demanded that German, 
geography, history, and pedagogy should always be 
taught in German, and not merely in the recapitu- 
latory lessons, and he effected this change with the 
help of other teachers. During the year 1911-12 
mathematics was taught in Hebrew, but in 1912 a 
new teacher for this subject was appointed, Dr. 
Hebroni, a Palestinian, who, although poorly ac- 
quainted with German, was compelled to teach 
mathematics in that language. Gymnastics, more- 
oVer, was taught only in German. 

In Jaffa there were formerly two Directors of 
the Hilfsverein educational work, one who was 
responsible for the subjects of instruction in Hebrew 
and the other for those in German. In 1913 the 

10 The German Attack on 

latter, Mr. Cohn, was placed in sole control of all the 
schools. Many of the changes in an anti-Hebrew 
direction were made by Mr. Cohn surreptitiously 
in order not to arouse any energetic protests from 
the teachers. But that both teachers and pupils 
were conscious of the changes, and were stirred by a 
deep sense of dissatisfaction, was made evident 
enough in the petitions which they addressed to 
Dr. Paul Nathan, who had the power if he wished 
to use it to suppress the anti-Hebrew tendency. 

The growing discontent among the teachers 
came under the notice of Dr. Schmaryah Levin, a 
member of the Executive Committee of the Zionist 
Organisation, who, as a member of the Board of 
Governors of the Jewish Institute for Technical 
Education, spent several months, in 1912-13, in 
Palestine in the interests of this Institute. He 
hoped that Herr James Simon, the President of the 
Hilfsverein, and Dr. Nathan, the honorary secre- 
tary, who represented their organisation on the 
Board of Governors of the Jewish Technical Insti- 
tute, would, in fixing the curriculum of this Institute 
and of the middle school affiliated to it, give prac- 
tical proof that they did not intend pursuing the 
policy of repressing Hebrew in Palestine. But, 
unfortunately, the hopes of Dr. Levin were doomed 
to disappointment. 

The Jewish Institute for Technical Education 
was projected at Haifa in order to fill a serious gap 
in the higher educational system of the country. It 

the Hebrew Schools in Palestine. 11 

was intended to train Jews in all branches of tech- 
nical education, especially as civil engineers, sur- 
veyors, architects, and chemists, with a view to 
their obtaining responsible positions in Palestine 
and the neighbouring countries. A site, of the value 
of 4,000, at the foot of Mount Carmel, was provided 
by the Jewish National Fund, and a number of Jews 
of Europe and America, both Zionists and non- 
Zionists, as well as organisations, combined to raise 
funds for the building and equipment of the Insti- 
tute. The largest amount was raised by Russian 
and American Jews, the Wissotzky family giving 
21,500 and Mr. Jacob H. Schiff 21,000. Several 
scholarships were also endowed by American Jews 
and the B'nai Brith Lodges. 

In Germany 12 scholarships were subscribed. 
Herr James Simon contributed 5,000, and Dr. 
Paul Nathan contributed the annual income, 
amounting to 650, of the Cohn-Oppenheim Founda- 
tion. In accordance with their respective financial 
support American Jewry had nine places on the Board 
of Governors, and the Wissotzky family six places. 
The support derived from America was almost en- 
tirely due to the personal efforts of Dr. Levin, 
who went on a propaganda tour through the United 
States and emphasised the service that would be 
rendered to Hebrew culture by the establishment of 
a Technical Institute in which the Hebrew lan- 
guage would predominate. It was solely for this 
reason that Dr. Levin, Dr. E. W. Tschlenow, and 

12 The German Attack on 

Mr. U. Ginzberg (" Achad-ha-Am"), as representing 
Zionist interests, joined the Board of Governors. 
The direction of the Board was placed in the hands 
of Herr James Simon and Dr. Nathan. At the 
request of the Governors Dr. Levin, in 1912, went to 
Haifa to expedite the building of the Institute, and, 
thanks to his efforts, it was brought very near to 

After his return Dr. Levin and his friends re- 
quested that the curriculum of the Technical Insti- 
tute should be fixed and that Hebrew should be 
adopted as the language of instruction. At a meet- 
ing of the Board of Governors, held on October 26th, 
1913 (at which there were no representatives of 
American Jewry), Dr. Levin and his friends proposed 
that Hebrew should be the sole medium of tuition at 
the Intermediate School and the medium for at 
least one scientific faculty at the Technical Institute. 

This proposal was really intended in the nature 
of a compromise, but it was nevertheless rejected 
by the Board, on which there was for practical pur- 
poses a German majority. The Russian members, 
Messrs. Wissotzky and Zeitlin, agreed in principle 
with Dr. Levin, but they voted for the resolution sub- 
mitted by Herr Simon and Dr. Nathan because the 
latter threatened, in the case of its non-acceptance, 
resignation and political difficulties. This resolu- 
tion declared that no official language should be 
introduced as obligatory for all faculties, that all 
scientific and technical subjects should be taught in 

the Hebrew Schools in Palestine. 13 

German, and that Hebrew should be taught only so 
far as to enable the students to read Hebrew litera- 
ture in the original. Professor Martin Philippson 
proposed that at least history and geography should 
be taught in Hebrew, but this proposal was lost, 
and the pro- German resolution of the Hilfsverein 
representatives was carried. As this resolution ran 
directly counter to the advancement of Hebrew 
culture in Palestine, to which Dr. Levin, " Achad- 
ha-Am," and Dr. Tschlenow had devoted years of 
labour, these three members resigned from the Board 
of Governors. 

The effect produced in Palestine by this resolu- 
tion was an outburst of righteous indignation. The 
Jews in Palestine felt that an attempt was being made 
to impede or suppress the natural intellectual ex- 
pression of their national life, and they accordingly 
rose in protest. At Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Haifa 
imposing demonstrations were held, at which resolu- 
tions were passed demanding that the Board of 
Governors should reconsider its decision and appoint 
Hebrew as the dominating language at the Technical 
Institute. The lead in these demonstrations was 
taken, fitly enough, by the Mcrkaz Hamorim, the 
Union of Teachers, which was the legitimate guardian 
of Hebrew culture in Palestine. The most notable 
meeting of protest was that held on November 15th, 
1913, at Haifa, on an open site exactly opposite to 
the Technical Institute, whose future had been the 
cause of this growing upheaval. 

i4 The German Attack on 

Not only in the towns but in the Jewish colonies, 
too, was the voice of protest raised, and it was then 
but natural that the movement for the defence of 
Hebrew should spread to the schools of the Hilfs- 
verein. The students of the more advanced institu- 
tions of this organisation, the Teachers' Seminary 
and the Commercial School, in Jerusalem, drew up 
a memorandum protesting against subjects being 
taught in German, which was not properly under- 
stood, and demanding that all subjects should be 
taught in Hebrew. The memorandum was presented 
to the Director, Mr. Cohn, who ignored it. 

Alarmed at the unexpected development, Dr. 
Paul Nathan arrived in Palestine on November 25th, 
1913, to study the situation. The teachers of the 
Hilfsverein institutions in Jerusalem, most of whom 
had lived many years in Palestine, submitted to him 
a memorandum demanding the introduction of 
Hebrew as the language of instruction for all scien- 
tific subjects, and pointing out the harm done to 
the children by their being taught in the German 
language, which was strange to them. Dr. Nathan, 
without vouchsafing any written reply, declared 
himself opposed to the teachers' demand. 

The result was that, in Jerusalem, all the stu- 
dents of the Teachers' Seminary left, declaring 
that they would not return till Hebrew was made the 
language of instruction ; whilst in Jaffa the pupils of 
the Hilfsverein school left and entered a new Hebrew 
School, which was immediately opened, and to which 

the Hebrew Schools in Palestine. 15 

all the teachers (except one) also went over. As the 
teachers of the Hilfsvercin schools in Jerusalem 
received no reply, eighteen of them sent an ulti- 
matum to Dr. Nathan, requesting a reply in four 
days, and announcing their resignation if their 
demand was refused, though declaring their willing- 
ness to serve another two months to allow time for 
the engagement of their successors. 

Before the period of grace elapsed Dr. Nathan 
and Mr. Cohn began negotiations with those teachers 
who had not signed the memorandum, with a view to 
resuming work at the Seminary, and when the insti- 
tution was reopened it was surrounded by a posse 
of police " for the purpose of protection." On the 
previous evening the Principal of the Seminary, Mr. 
David Yellin, received a letter from Dr. Nathan stat- 
ing that the language question and the proffered 
resignation of the teachers would be decided at a 
meeting in Berlin, but that he meanwhile set them at 
liberty. The hour being late, Mr. Yellin was able to 
inform only Miss Pinczower, Principal of the Girls' 
School, and another teacher, and as nothing was 
explicitly said about the date of the termination of 
their services, the latter decided to resume their work 
the next day as usual. 

Accordingly, on the following morning, Decem- 
ber 10th, 1913, the teachers appeared in the school, 
but they had hardly begun their duties when Mr. 
Cohn, accompanied by the German Consul-General 
and several policemen, entered the building to drive 

16 The German Attack on 

them out. No resistance was offered. The teachers 
calmly retired ; and after the fears of the weeping 
children had been allayed, they, too, withdrew. Miss 
Pinczower, who had been Principal of the Girls' 
School for four and a half years, during which the 
number of children had increased from 180 to 450, 
immediately became the head of a new Hebrew Girls' 
School which was opened, and to which she was fol- 
lowed by 200 of her former pupils. This new school 
was established by the Teachers' Union, which, in 
concert with the teachers of the Hilfsverein schools, 
also founded a new Hebrew Teachers' Seminary. 

As justification for the summary dismissal of the 
teachers Dr. Nathan alleged that Mr. Yellin had 
called upon the students of the highest class in the 
Seminary to go over to the new institution to be 
established. This allegation was utterly false. The 
dismissal of Mr. Yellin, after twenty-five years of 
self-sacrificing labours, simply because he was 
zealously devoted to the furtherance of Hebrew 
culture, was not only a disgraceful act in itself, but 
it was made doubly mortifying by the fact that his 
discharge was made known to his pupils before he 
himself was informed. 

The result of the hostile attitude adopted by the 
Hilfsverein towards the use of Hebrew as the lan- 
guage of instruction was that six new institutions 
were opened, at which all subjects were taught in 
Hebrew, namely, a Hebrew Intermediate School at 
Haifa, a Boys' School at Jaffa, a Teachers' Seminary, 

the Hebrew Schools in Palestine. 17 

a Girls' School and a Boys' School in Jerusalem, as 
well as a Kindergarten Teachers' Course. Of the total 
number of 56 teachers in the schools of the Hilfs- 
verein, 41 left to take up positions, and of the 
1,115 pupils over one-half left to seek instruction, 
in these new Hebrew schools. These figures are 
a striking testimony to the spirit of idealism 
and self-sacrifice that animated both teachers and 
pupils in their zeal for the Jewish Renascence. The 
Zionist Organisation at once stepped into the breach 
by furnishing moral and material support for the new 
schools, whilst the Palestinian population, teachers 
and pupils, subscribed for the maintenance of those 
students who cheerfully forfeited the Hilfsverein 

These singular and stirring events in the life of 
Palestinian Jewry had an immediate echo in all Jewish 
communities throughout the world and aroused a 
general feeling of sympathy and admiration for the 
protagonists of Hebraism, and a corresponding feel- 
ing of hostility towards the authors of this attempt 
at forcible Germanisation. The American members 
of the Board of Governors of the Haifa Technical 
Institute, at a meeting held on January 18th, 1914, 
adopted a resolution that Hebrew should be the pre- 
dominant language as far as practicable, and that 
after not more than seven years instruction should be 
in Hebrew in all courses except where it could be 
shown that proper Hebrew instructors or text-booKS 
were lacking. In consequence of this American 

18 The German Attack on 

resolution, and as the Russian members of the Board 
were also opposed to the original resolution, Herr 
Simon and Dr. Paul Nathan offered their resigna- 
tions to the executive of the Board. They also 
ordered by cable the stoppage of work on the Tech- 
nical Institute, with the result that 65 Jewish work- 
men were at once dismissed. Ultimately, however, 
a compromise was arrived at. " Achad-ha-Am," 
Dr. Levin, and Dr. Tschlenow rejoined the Board of 
Governors, and it was resolved that from the opening 
of the Institute physics and mathematics should be 
taught in Hebrew, and that at the end of the first four 
years other subjects also should be taught in this 
medium. This resolution still awaits fulfilment, for 
the outbreak of war has indefinitely postponed the 
opening of the Haifa Technical Institute. 

This brief history merely shows that during the 
few years immediately preceding the war there was 
a change of policy on the part of the Hilfsverein in 
regard to the language of instruction in its Pales- 
tinian schools. But it does not reveal the .cause of 
that change nor explain the hidden motives by which 
the directors of that organisation were animated. 
The only grounds upon which the latter defended the 
change were pedagogical arguments, and these were 
vigorously refuted by the teachers in the Hilfsverein's 
own schools, who were the best judges of the situa- 
tion. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to suppose 
that the change of policy was due to secret pressure 
exercised by the German Government with a view 

the Hebrew Schools in Palestine. 19 

to making the Jewish schools nurseries of Prussian 
Kultur. This sinister intention was ignominiously 
defeated through Palestinian Jewry rising to the 
defence of the Hebrew language as of its most holy 

And if the Jews of Palestine could display such 
zeal, courage, and self-sacrifice in a purely ideal cause, 
when they were still under the blasting rule of the 
Turk, with what passionate devotion will they not 
foster their national culture when they rejoice in the 
blessings of freedom ! 

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